HUNTINGTON BEACH — Jack Grisham sits on his bedroom floor, admiring the latest bit of unpremeditated chaos he has wrought in the world of punk rock.
Delightedly, he is screening rough footage for a video for "Go Bang," a song by his new band, the Joykiller. The track and the explosive, catchy debut album it is taken from could turn Grisham from a local legend--known for his charismatic presence, his wild and sometimes violent behavior and his career-long commercial underachieving--into a bona fide rock star.
The Joykiller's album was released Tuesday amid unusually high hopes for a new band on an independent label. Epitaph, the Los Angeles record company that gave us Offspring's multi-platinum album "Smash," already has pressed more than 100,000 copies of "The Joykiller," according to Andy Kaulkin, part of the team overseeing the record's marketing and promotion.
"Our expectations are that it's going to be pretty big," Kaulkin said.
Grisham turns 34 in July and has spent half his years fronting punk and hard-edged alternative-rock bands. "The Joykiller" is a return to early roots he never entirely relinquished; if success comes, it will be a vindication for an old-line punker whose overlooked early-'80s recordings with T.S.O.L. helped lay the groundwork for punk's eruption into the mainstream more than a decade later.
The Joykiller singer clearly hasn't lost his notorious knack for wild surprises.
On screen, as the "Go Bang" video footage plays, the strapping, athletically built Grisham can be seen stalking around the set with a mischievous look in his eyes and a rather large kitchen knife in his right hand.
While the on-screen Jack threatens mayhem, his flesh-and-blood double watches with an appreciative smile and repeatedly rewinds the video to the moment when he stampedes past piano player Ronnie King and inadvertently nicks him with the blade. King, uninjured, keeps grinning for the camera, but spends the rest of the shot with a wary eye on the rampaging vocalist.
The sequence ends when Grisham puts the knife in his mouth, then spits it out. The part you don't see, he says, is the panicky camera crew diving to grab the weapon as soon as it hits the floor, for fear he might pick it up again and accidentally turn "Go Bang" into rock's first snuff video.
The question that faces the Joykiller now is whether Grisham has snuffed, or at least tamed, the darker impulses from his past that sometimes made this extraordinarily handsome, charming man a truly dangerous, self-defeating and deeply strange fellow to be around.
Stories abound of extremist Grisham behavior: the one-punch knockdown in 1982 of T.S.O.L.'s first record company boss, Robbie Fields, stemming from a dispute over royalties. The time Grisham refused to go on a T.S.O.L. road trip, locking all the band's equipment in his garage and threatening to call the police if his band mates tried to get it out. The 1989 incident when he finished an argument with bassist Robbie Allen by heaving a stereo speaker onto Allen's back, landing him in the hospital. The show when Grisham saw a man acting rough with a woman in the audience, jumped down, punched the guy out and got back on stage and finished the song. That might sound gallant, but Grisham also could take out his anger on his own girlfriends, as he recounted in "Rage I Sell" from "If Anger Were Soul, I'd Be James Brown," the intensely personal, demon-wrestling album he released with Tender Fury in 1991:
Well I loved her and needed her
But that never stopped me from beating her
. . . It's rage I sell.
"If we had a local Enquirer, he'd be on the cover of it, and most of it would be true," says Dan Root, who played guitar alongside Grisham in Tender Fury and his other post-T.S.O.L. band, Cathedral of Tears.
Last week, though, it was a bright, personable and considerate Grisham who sat on the sunbaked patio of the house he shares with his wife, Maggie, and her mother. Anastasia, Grisham's 7-year-old daughter by a former girlfriend, was visiting, and doting Dad insisted on a hug and kiss whenever the little blonde he calls "Peanut" came by.
Grisham says he gave up alcohol and drugs in January, 1989, and embarked on a regimen of therapy and meditation as he tried to control his anger and fear.
"Believe me, that took a lot of work," he said. "I come from a family where everybody got hit. There were some problems there, and you take that out (into the world) and that's what you do.
". . . I'm not a vicious person. I mean well, and I am sincerely sorry for everything I've done. Violence now makes me sick. It should make someone sick."
For more than two years, from 1992 until mid-1994, Grisham stayed offstage and concentrated on writing and recording in hopes of landing a major-label contract. He eventually grew disgusted with tinkering and pressure from label scouts who wanted to hear a narrower range of material than the array of styles he was writing with pianist King and bassist Billy Persons.